Friday, February 05, 2010

Interview with David Dank on Property Tax Reform

One of the issues in the Legislature this year, besides the current fiscal crisis, is a debate regarding property tax reform. I was at the State Capitol this week, and had the chance to interview State Rep. David Dank (R-OKC), the chief proponent of reforming how the property tax is evaluated here in Oklahoma.

Here is an excerpt from my talk with Dank.
Jamison Faught: Now on the property tax bill...
David Dank: I have two: one that would freeze the seniors [property tax], and then actually the other one I had to sign over to Mike Jackson, and that was a ploy the Speaker did so that he could keep control of it. That was the 5% to 3% cap reduction. He wouldn't hear it if it were mine.
JF: Property tax. What exactly does the property tax fund?
DD: It is local, and it helps fund education, the county government, the career techs, the libraries, and that's pretty much it. Those four things - it contributes to their funding.
JF: A lot of the critics of the property tax cap reduction that you're in favor of say that it's going to hurt the counties, or education. What do you say to that?
DD: Well, I guess my main answer is, and I've got it in there [memo to Republican caucus], that a 3% increase is not a reduction. And it can't be called that. It's just going to slow the growth of government. These people are... here's one example. The property evaluation in OK County has gone from 3.9 billion dollars in 2005 to 5.1-something billion dollars in 2009. So, they'll be raising the homestead property at five percent per year, until they eventually catch up with the value of those homes, the market value. But they assess themselves, based on some complicated, convuluted formula that they have, so that it's just a never-ending deal, kinda like digging in sand - you're just not going to get there from here. They keep raising it, and keep raising it, and keep raising it. To some extent I think it drives seniors out of their homes; they can't afford it anymore. Because when your evaluation goes up on your house too, and a lot of people like some of our leadership didn't even consider this, whenever they say your home is worth $150,000 next year instead of $130,000 (which gives them the leeway to raise it the five percent the next several years), your insurance is going to go up - in fact, it's going to leapfrog ahead of the five percent, because the insurance has got to be the replacement cost. So it's actually going to go up more than the property tax. And then everything else is going up proportionally. You've got utilities going up, you've got the cost of living going up, and you've got people on fixed incomes. And now we've got a lot of people that don't have jobs, or who are underemployed.

I also obtained copies of three memos Dank sent out to the Republican caucus over the past two months. In the documents, he referred to Speaker Chris Benge as characterizing the proposals as "tax cuts" - something Dank vehemently denied, and instead labeled "tax restraints", since the property tax would still be increasing, just at a lower rate. He went on to state, "Those who believe that raising property taxes for seniors each year and boosting everyone's ad valorem taxes by five percent are usually called Democrats."

He called on his fellow caucus members to declare their independence from House leadership, and embrace the property tax measures. He emphasized the popularity of such legislation with the voters, and pointed out that the Democrats lost their majority in the legislature due to ignoring the needs and desires of their constituents - and that the same could very well happen to the Republicans.

The proposals were intended to be put on the ballot in November - Dank said that he has not ruled out using the initiative petition process, if the legislature does not approve the legislation. He has set aside his entire legislative salary throughout his tenure to be used for the purpose of funding the campaign to lowering and/or freeze the property tax for senior citizens.

Rep. David Dank (R-OKC) represents House District 85, and was first elected in 2006. He can be contacted at (405) 557-7392 or


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